Friday, January 28, 2011

Mr. Aggravation

This post is linked to Sunday Snippets

Y'all remember last week we covered a couple of Jesus' first miracles, such as...making wine from the water, yes, and...healing the paralyzed man. Yes. You may remember, in that story Jesus aggravated the scribes...why? Because they said he couldn't forgive sins. Yes; and by working the physical miracle, Jesus showed he had authority to work the...spiritual miracle, yes, which was...forgiving sins!  Yes.

Jesus aggravated a lot of people over the 3 years of his public ministry, but they were aggravated because Jesus told the truth. But even average people could get angry with Jesus, not just scribes and Pharisees; let's look at an example.

After John baptized Jesus, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and preparing for his mission. While he was out of the public eye, people would have talked about John the Baptist fussing over Jesus at the Jordan: all that Lamb of God business, and the dove. So in Luke's Gospel, after Jesus leaves the desert he pays a visit to his hometown...Beth...Nazareth! Yes, and he goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Everyone is pleased to see the famous local boy, and he is invited to read from the Torah, like the way lectors read from the Bible at Mass. Jesus reads a bit from his favorite prophet, Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord." And he closed the book...and he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." And all spoke well of him, and they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" The scripture reading sounds like good news: healing the blind, maybe some prophesying, Jesus saying he's anointed, the scripture is fulfilled...this ain't no ordinary Saturday! Now tell me, what's the Hebrew word for anointed? Messiah? Yes. Who gets anointed? Kings...yes, and...people like Elijah...prophets? Yes. So Jesus must be...a king or a prophet? Yes...or both. And in those days who was in charge of Judea? Caesar? Yes, who was...a banana...ha, the Roman emperor! Yes, and did the Jews enjoy being subjects of the emperor? No! Because? He took their money and stuff! Yes, the Jews were oppressed, but they remembered when Israel was independent, and they were waiting for a...Messiah, yes, an Anointed One, in Greek a Christos, a King like...David! Yes, or...Solomon!  Yes, to "set at liberty those who are oppressed." When Jesus said that, who did the people at the synagogue think were the oppressed people who would be set at liberty? Themselves! Yes, that'd be nice news! No more Caesar and his taxes and soldiers. Everybody's feelin' alright.

But then Jesus says, "I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow." Tell me that story, we've had it in class. She was starving but let him have some of her food so he made a miracle and she never ran out. Yes. God had Elijah miraculously help a pagan woman, not one of the starving Chosen People in Israel.

And Jesus went on: "And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." Tell it please. He washed in the river 7 times and he wasn't a leper anymore. Yes, so even though "there were many lepers in Israel," God saw fit to have Elisha miraculously heal a pagan.

"When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.  And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away." (all from Luke 4) One minute Jesus is the hometown boy, the next minute they're gonna throw him off a cliff! Why's that? No guesses? That's ok, even grownups don't always figure this out. Jesus is telling them that the good news he's proclaiming about liberation from oppression and so forth may not apply to them even though they're "Sons of Abraham," as John the Baptist would say. Jesus is saying that in the past, sometimes God gave miracles to pagans instead of Jews. Jesus is reminding everyone that God rewards people not because of who they are, their status, but by...what they do!  Yes. Isaiah used to say this same thing; he aggravated people, too. And both Jesus and John would tell people a tree is judged good or bad by the fruits it produces: "for the tree is known by its fruit." Of course they're talking about...people, and the fruits are...what you do. Yes. We're made of a...body'n'soul, uh-huh, and if we do good things, then...our souls are good. Yes. Unless you're being deceitful, which of course is a sin.

What's the 3rd Commandment? Huh? Topic change, tell me please. Don't use the Lord's name in vain? Close, that's #2. Keep holy the Lord's Day? That's it! Let's see...for the first 6 days what did God do? Make everything! Yes, and then? He rested! Yes. On the 7th day, God shabbated, he...rested. Yes, because he was tired? No, so we would rest. Yes, he set the example, just like Jesus. Well, if I'm shabbating, resting on the Sabbath, can I cut the grass? Yes. Can I wash the car? Yes. Can I fix a bicycle? I think so. Suppose I hate to fix bikes or do yard work? I don't know. Go to the office? I don't think so. See, deciding what work is can be tricky; and the Jews had 39 rules for the Sabbath so they could be absolutely positive they were resting and not doing any work. And the Pharisees took all these rules very seriously. They'd busybody other people and say, "hey darlin' you can't be patching those pants on the Sabbath" or "don't sharpen that knife on the Sabbath." The Pharisees were obsessed with the rules. I can't imagine feeling restful by checking 39 rules. Anyway, one Sabbath day Jesus and the apostles were walking, and were hungry. So they picked some wheat, and as they walked they were rubbing the grains hard between their hands like this to get the chaff off; chaff's the hard outside that people usually don't eat. "But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath." They meant that rubbing the wheat was preparing a meal, which is work. "He said to them, "Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?"  When David was on the run from King Saul, he and his men were allowed to eat bread that had been saved in the Temple for God. Jesus is telling the Pharisees that he has as much authority as David. Then he says, "I tell you, something greater than the temple is here." And the only thing more important than God's temple would be...God? Yes, so Jesus is saying in a roundabout way that he is God. And he ices the cake by saying, "For the Son of man is lord of the sabbath." (all Matthew 12) Uh-oh, Jesus means his judgement about what counts for work on the Sabbath is more authoritative than the 39 rules and the Pharisees. So they...are...aggravated! Yes! But they could've listened to Jesus and thought about what the point is of a day of rest, and whether so many rules really help or are just a burden. But their pride prevented them.

And "he went on from there, and entered their synagogue. And behold, there was a man with a withered hand. And they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?" so that they might accuse him." If a doctor heals someone on the Sabbath, then he's working, so they want to trip Jesus up. They ask him a simple, direct question, "but He said to them, "What man of you, if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath." Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, whole like the other. But the Pharisees went out and [discussed] how to destroy him.

This time Jesus aggravates the Pharisees by not answering their picky question about the 39 rules; instead he says there is a higher law, "to do good on the sabbath," and heals the man. Jesus is teaching a good lesson about God and rules, but they don't want to listen. And like those people at the Nazareth synagogue, they are angry enough to kill him.

A couple more aggravation stories and we'll move on. Jesus was in Jerusalem, and healed a man who was sick and lying on a pallet. A pallet is a thin little mattress you can carry. "Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your pallet, and walk." And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. Now that day was the sabbath. So the [Pharisees] said to the man who was cured, "It is the sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet." Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you." I like this line, because the man was sick for 38 years; but what does Jesus think is worse than that? Sinning? Yes. Jesus is reminding the man that spiritual sickness, sin, is worse than physical sickness. Then "The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, "My Father is working still, and I am working." Now let's think a bit: in Genesis, God worked for...6 days...then...rested! Yes, and did he just shabbat for all eternity after those 6 days? Well? That sounds weird. Yes, it does, and Jesus said his father is still working, so he must be. Tell me, how did God make light? Did he make a fire? No, he just said let there be light. And...then there was light. Yes, so if God thinks about something existing exists!  Yes. For God, to think of something is to create it. Jesus said once that we are each so precious to God that he knows every hair on our heads; but how does the hair exist in the first place? God thinks about it? Yes, God knows every hair because he is thinking about each one all the time. Suppose he just forgot about my hair one day...what would happen to my hair?'d disappear! Yes. Actually there's a place on the back of my head where I think he's forgetting...oh well. So what is the work that God is still doing? Thinking about everything! So keeps existing? Yes. One way I think about Jesus saying his Father is still working is that the Universe is made of the energy of God thinking about how much he loves his Creation in general, and us in particular. So if God still does good work all the time, even on the Sabbath, it's ok for us "to do good on the sabbath" without checking 39 rules.

"This was why the [Pharisees] sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God." Once again, Jesus' critics want to protect their positions of authority, and would rather get rid of him than listen to him.

Now in addition to healing the man with the withered hand, Jesus healed lots of other people. For example there was a man named Jairus, whose daughter was deathly sick. Do you you suppose he stayed home and prayed? No he went and got Jesus!  Yes! "Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue; and falling at Jesus' feet he besought him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying." So what did Jesus do? He went to their house! Yes.

 "As he went, the people pressed round him. And a woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years and had spent all her money upon physicians, and could not be healed by anyone came up behind him, and touched the tassel of his garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased." Do y'all know the word 'hemorrhage'? No? It's a Greek word that means 'blood-flow' in the sense of uncontrolled bleeding that's hard to stop. So...did the woman stay home and pray? No she went to find Jesus and touch him. Yes, and she didn't actually touch him, but touched the tassel of his cloak. But "...Jesus said, "Who was it that touched me?" When all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!" So there's a crowd pressing against Jesus, but Jesus means he particularly felt someone touch him; that is he felt someone touch the tassel of his cloak. But how could he feel such a tiny touch amidst all these people?  "Jesus said, "Someone touched me; for I know that power has gone out of me." (I pull out my chicken bone relic.) What's this? Elijah's bone! Close, Elisha's bone. Tell it to me. The dead man fell on his bones and he came back to life. Yes, so God's life-giving power went through...the bones! Yes. So it would be reasonable that God's healing power could go through Jesus, who wasn't even dead like Elisha. But I like how the power in this case went from God, through Jesus, through the cloak, down to the little tassel, and then into the woman and healed her. The power went through stuff, not just a holy person. And nowadays even though Jesus is in Heaven, God's power still goes through stuff, like, well, you tell me. Tell me about the stuff that we have in Sacraments. Water? Yes, for...Baptism? Yes. Another please. Bread and wine. Yes, which become...Jesus' body'n'blood. Yes. And we have oil at Confirmation and at Ordinations.

"And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace." But her faith wasn't just what she believed, but...what she did. Yes, she acted in faith because body and soul...go together. Yes. Faith alone, faith by itself isn't enough, we have to act on our faith.
Back to Jairus' sick daughter: "While he was still speaking, a man from the ruler's house came and said, "Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more." But Jesus on hearing this answered him, "Do not fear; only believe, and she shall be well."  Jesus doesn't want Jairus' faith to fade even though his daughter has died. "And when he came to the house...all were weeping and bewailing her; but he said, "Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, "Child, arise." And her spirit returned, and she got up at once; and he directed that something should be given her to eat." So Jesus touched her, and she came back to life. (all Luke 9)

Now Jairus had faith, but he was like most people, who wanted Jesus to go with them to heal the sick child, or the possessed person, or the leper. They believed in Jesus, but still, it helped their faith to be able to see Jesus have a physical encounter with the afflicted person. We might say, hey Jairus, don'tcha have any faith? Jesus doesn't have to grab your daughter to heal her. And he'd say, "Sure, I have faith...but I'm afraid to go home without him...what if I get home by myself and she isn't better?" Our faith isn't as strong as we'd like it to be.

One more healing and we're done for tonight.

"As [Jesus] entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him  and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress."  What's a centurion? A soldier. Yes, from China? No, a Roman soldier. Yes. [centurion goes on the board] How many men does he command? 100! How do you know? 'Cause c-e-n-t means a hundred! Yes, in what language? Latin? Yes, so how many cents are in a dollar? 100! Years in a century? 100! ¿Cómo se llama hundred in Español? Cien! Yes, and in Italian, it's cento ("chento"). So this officer is important, he orders soldiers around all day long. And being in the occupying army, he can order Jesus around too if he feels like like it. But instead of saying "Hey you Jewish healer, go fix my sick servant," he calls Jesus Lord. So what does that tell you? That he thinks Jesus is important. Yes. The Roman officer knows Jesus has more power than he does. "And [Jesus] said to him, "I will come and heal him."  Jesus knows people want to see him do the healing with their own eyes. "But the centurion answered him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed." Where've you heard that before? Mass! Yes, and when we get to the Mass later this year, y'all remember this story. Why doesn't the centurion feel like Jesus needs to hike over to his house? " Cause he has faith? Yes, lots of faith. The centurion says, "For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."  What does he mean? That he knows you don't have to see everything to know it will happen? Yes. He knows how authority works, and that Jesus has authority. "When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even  in Israel have I found such faith." Jesus means that this pagan soldier, who just takes Jesus at his word, has more faith than the Jews, who ought to know better than a Roman. Then he aggravates everyone, just like he did at the synagogue: "I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." People who come from from east and west are foreigners, like the Roman. Who are the "the sons of the kingdom"? The Jews? Yes, the Chosen People. Like Isaiah, Jesus is reminding them that God may choose people who aren't Sons of Abraham to dine at the heavenly feast; while those who counted on getting in just because they were Chosen may be thrown out.

 "And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed at that very moment." (all Matthew 8) I love that story. I'd like to have the centurion's faith; but I'm more like Jairus.

Hey we still have a couple of minutes, we could get started on the Loaves and the Fishes miracle...ehhh, it'll be better to cover it all in one class next week. I guess y'all get out a couple of minutes early.

Class over! Aren't we gonna do the new prayer? I forgot! Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever! Yes; now class is really over!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Right Through the Roof

This article has been linked to Amazing Catechists.

Last week we saw John announce that Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world; not that anyone understood exactly what that meant. I don't think even John understood it all that well, but prophecies usually aren't too clear so that we, and even the prophets, have to think about it, figure it out.

Tell me please, if President Obama were going to visit Greenville, would he just drive down from DC, park on Main Street, get out and start to shake hands with people?  Huh? C'mon, new topic. Answer the question. No, there'd be a lot of people around him. Yeah, like who? Secret Service guys! OK, so they would all show up in a bus together? No, the bodyguards come first and check things out. Yes. When an important person comes to visit, other people come ahead of him to get things ready, to "prepare the way" as John the Baptist said. That's what John did, get people ready for Jesus. In the Greek churches they call him John the Forerunner; I like that. But now Jesus has started his public ministry, and John's job is done. In fact, two of Jesus' first followers, his first two apostles Andrew & John (not the Baptist) came to him from John the Baptist. A bit later, "Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized." So both Jesus and John were baptizing at the same time; and people said to John, "he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him." John answered, "I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him (the Forerunner, see?)...He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3) So John's ministry is winding down and he is content. Notice that Jesus is baptizing along with his disciples; they are sharing that responsiblity.

But later on, "when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again to Galilee." (John 4). The Pharisees were starting to worry more about Jesus than John. Notice that Jesus isn't doing the baptizing now...who does it? The disciples? Yes. I suppose he's trained them well enough to take care of business. So if you went to Jesus to get baptized, what would he say? Go get them to baptize you? Yes. What does that tell you about the disciples? Jesus put them in charge? Yes. Jesus authorized them to do this work for him. You can't go straight to Jesus anymore to get have to...go to his guys! Ummm, yes, the men that Jesus authorized. Later on we'll see other examples of how Jesus put the apostles in charge of his new Church.

Can anyone tell me Jesus' first miracle? He turned the water into wine. Yes, at a funeral? No, a wedding! Yes, at the reception; where'd this happen...y'all may know this...Cana! Yes. Were they drinking Cokes at the party? No, wine, but they ran out! And? They told Mary. Yes, and Mary said to Jesus "I'm your mom and I'm telling you, make this right." Huh? I don't think she told him what to do. No, she didn't. She just said, "They have no wine." But then Jesus says, "Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour is not yet come." Jesus isn't fussing, he's just giving Mary a chance to set a good example for the rest of us. What does she say to the wine stewards? Do what Jesus says. Yes, "do whatever he tells you;" that would be good advice for anyone, to do what Jesus tells you. So then? They fill up big jugs with water. Yes, and? Then they taste it, and it's wine. Yes, the best wine they've ever had; and there were 6 jugs, each one could hold about 20 gallons of wine. So Jesus made way more wine than they started with, and better wine, too. That's how God blesses people: with more than they imagined. My life is like that: I've been blessed better than I could have imagined for myself. And did the hosts go ask Jesus for this big fat favor? No, Mary did. Yes. That's called intercession, like when Moses asked God not to wipe out the Israelites for worshiping the Golden Calf. God the Father and Jesus both did favors for people who didn't even ask for the favor, because another faithful person asked for them. And that still happens today as we'll see.

Now, when Jesus changed water into wine, he was hinting at something he'd do later. What did he do with wine at the Last Supper? Changed it into his blood? Yes. I bet the apostles thought, "Well, if he turned water into wine at that wedding a few years ago, he can turn this wine into his blood." Jesus first works miracles that people can see, so they'll believe it when he works miracles later that...they can't see? Yes. Physical miracles prepare people for spiritual miracles. Let's look at a great example.

Hey, I need two sturdy volunteers, you and you get up here, I volunteered whining. OK, now daughter, you volunteer next. Lie down over there on the floor. What? Lie down, it's carpet, it's clean. Don't be fastidious. What's fastidious? It means fussy. Lie down. Why? You're paralyzed, all you can do is lie down, stop arguing with Jesus. You aren't Jesus!  That's right, but I'm playing Jesus right now. Hey y'all, what is this story we're about to do? When Jesus heals the paralyzed man! That's right! So you're the paralyzed man, lie down. But I'm a girl! Yes I're light so these two friends of yours can pick you up. C'mon y'all, why do they pick him up? To put him through the roof! Yes. OK you two, get ready to pick up your friend...don't pick him up yet! You're still outside the house where Jesus is. Paralyzed man, is Jesus a miracle worker? Yes. Why don't your friends just stand out here and pray for Jesus to fix you? Umm...I don't know. That's OK...friends, why do you think you have to go through the roof? Cause it's crowded? Yes. Let me ask it this way: why do y'all have to get your friend right in front of Jesus? If Jesus is God, he must already know you're out here, right? Yes. In fact, why didn't you just stay home and pray instead of toting your poor friend across town in the hot sun? Anybody in the crowd? No's a tough question. Let's move on. The Bible says: "And they came, bringing to him a paralytic. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. OK two friends, go through the roof and put Mr. Paralysis in front of Jesus...hey, you're interrupting my teaching, Jesus is busy! We're sorry! That's ok, maybe Jesus can turn this into a teachable moment. Mr. Paralysis, what do you want? I want to be healed! Yeah? From what exactly? Well, I'm paralyzed, fix that. Two friends, what do you want? Well, the same thing, heal him please. Crowd, whatcha want? Heal him! Let's see what happens: "...they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And Jesus saw their faith..." Crowd, look at these two friends: do they have faith in Jesus? Yes! How do you know...can you see their souls? No we saw them make a hole in the roof and put their friend through. Yes, you know they have faith because of...what they did! Yes. That's how Jesus and everyone else could see their faith. Body'n'Soul go together. Crowd, can you imagine the paralyzed man's friends thinking, "let's lower our paralyzed friend through the roof so Jesus will forgive his sins?" That sounds weird. Yes. Everyone expects Jesus to heal the man, that's why they put him through the roof.

So Jesus looks down at the paralyzed man and says what? Get up and walk! No! Trick question! I win again! Jesus said, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Mr. Paralysis, is that what you want, forgiven sins? Are you happy now? Well, I guess so...but I'm still paralyzed. Oh. I'm sorry, I must've fixed the wrong thing! Friends, crowd, how about it: good news? I guess so.

But "some of the scribes said to themselves, "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And they are right! Could John the Baptist forgive sins? No! Elijah? No! Isaiah? No! Right. And we know that Jesus came to free us from.....sin? Yes, Jesus could forgive sins, take away sins. But like the scribes said, only God can forgive sin. So Jesus...must be God? Yes, or at least acting with God's authority. But watch now: "Your sins are forgiven, Mr. Paralytic!"...see any difference? No. Mr. Paralytic, do you feel any different? No. So can any of you tell if Jesus really forgave his sins or not? No. Right. It's an invisible miracle, forgiving sins. Why would it be hard for the crowd, or any human being, to believe in an invisible miracle? 'Cause we can't tell it really happened. Yes, we want some physical evidence, because we're made of a... BodynSoul! Yes. But sins are's a problem.

So now Jesus asks a question. That's what Rabbis, teachers, do. They don't just answer questions; they ask them, and make people think. Jesus says, "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, "Rise, take up your pallet and walk?" Well? Your sins are forgiven. Why? Because nobody can tell if you did anything or not. Yes. And so the harder thing to say is...get up and walk! Yes, because...if he doesn't walk people know Jesus was just saying stuff! Yes! "But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And? He gets up and goes home! Yes! Go on home, Mr. Used-to-be-Paralyzed, well, back to your desk. Do you feel any different? Yes! I bet you believe in Jesus now even if you didn't know who he was 15 minutes ago. So Jesus has done the hard thing, cured a paralyzed man; crowd, do you think maybe Jesus can forgive sins too? Yes! Because...we saw him walk! Uh-huh. Jesus works these visible miracles to help us believe in the...invisible ones! Yes, and this won't be the only time.

Tell me again, why do people die, get sick, have zits, all that bad stuff? Because of sin. Yes, back in...Eden. Yes. Now, how exactly did Jesus make this man's arms & legs start working all of a sudden? I don't know, it's just a miracle. Yes, but let's think a bit. Did Jesus first say, "I heal you from your paralysis"? What? Did Jesus first heal him physically? That's what people were expecting, right? Yes. But what did Jesus heal first? Well, he forgave his sins. Yes, what kind of healing is that? Huh? Is that physical healing, to have your sins forgiven? No, it's spiritual, your soul. Right.  Jesus was making a point: the man's physical sickness was related to...his umm, spiritual sickness? Yes, genius, and spiritual sickness is called....sin!  Yes. But even if the paralytic got his sins fixed and also his body fixed, would he still die? Yes. Would he still sin again? Yes! Creation is still messed up by sin. Now, one thing is for sure: everyone in the crowd is glad they aren't...paralyzed! Yes. Y'all felt sorry for him and you're happy that being paralyzed ain't your problem, thank ya God! But Jesus wasn't too concerned with the man's sick body; he was concerned about his...sick soul! Yes. That's why Jesus forgave his sins and didn't make a peep about his paralysis until the scribes complained. But crowd, even if you were relieved that your bodies weren't sick...our souls are sick! From...sin! Yes, so actually all of us sinners are as spiritually sick as the paralyzed man...maybe even more sick, it's hard to tell with sin, you can't see it. So instead of us just being glad the man was healed, we'd also be excited that Jesus could forgive our sins: "When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men." What men today have authority to forgive sin? Priests! Yes, and the authority comes from...Jesus! Yes.

But what sort of sins could a paralyzed man have? Suicide? Yes, good guess. He might've been so miserable for so long he'd wish he were dead. Maybe he was angry with God,  hated God because he was paralyzed, that'd be a serious sin, too. We can be sure he had sins that needed to be forgiven.

OK, now let's go back to question y'all haven't answered yet...why didn't the paralyzed man's friends just stay home and pray? No guesses. Listen to this about Jesus: "...he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him." Over and over in the Gospels we'll see people try to touch Jesus or his clothes to get healed. Are they superstitious? No. Remind me why Moses had to hit the rock with a stick instead of just pray for water. 'Cause the power went through the stick!  Yes, God's power; and Isaac laid his hands on Jacob because...his blessing went through his hands.  Yes, and so sick people would touch Jesus because...Jesus' power went through his body?  Yes. So in the Gospels, God's power still goes through something physical, but it's not a stick, or manna, it's...Jesus' body?  Yes. So why did the paralyzed man's friends go to all that trouble to plop him down through the roof instead of staying home and praying real hard? To get him close to enough to touch Jesus! Yes. The Gospels don't say if Jesus touched the man or not, but the man still heard Jesus through his ears and saw him with his eyes; maybe even smelled him with his nose. We call that having a physical encounter with Jesus. Jesus has a body and a soul, and we have...a body and a soul, too!  Yes. So people who want to know, or encounter, Jesus completely want to do it in spirit and...with your body? Yes, physically. Now I need a genius to tell me how we can have a physical encounter with Jesus. Well, God's in all of us?  Yes, but be more's at Mass...oh, Communion! Yes, why? Because it's Jesus' Body and Blood!  Right. Just having a spiritual encounter is only half of the deal, as the paralytic's friends perfectly understood, as well as everyone else in the Gospels who wanted a miracle. Praying wasn't enough.

Another question: did the paralytic man have faith? Did he believe in Jesus? Yes?... No? Let me ask it this way: who do we know had faith? His friends!  Yes. And Jesus healed the man because "he saw their faith;" he saw what they did, just like the crowd could see. Tell me again how the wedding party at Cana got new wine. Jesus made it out of water. Well, yes, but why did he work that little miracle? Mary told him they didn't have any more wine!  Yes, Mary interceded. So what did the paralytic's friends do? They interceded too! Yes. We don't know if the Paralytic or the wedding party had faith in Jesus or not. But Mary and the paralytic's friends did, and that was enough. The Gospel are full of intercession stories, you'll see. And we still intercede for each other both in daily life, like "Honey, don't be too hard on Junior about not taking out the trash; he's feeling bad because he was teased at school today," and in our faith life. Y'all remember my daughter almost died in a bad fall this past Spring, and sustained serious brain damage; well, we ask people we know on earth to pray for her, and people in heaven too. I especially ask my grandmother in heaven to pray for Francie's complete healing. I ask Mary and my buddy saints to pray to Jesus for her healing too. Yes? How do you know your grandma is in heaven? Good question...I don't. But if she isn't, I believe Jesus lets another saint hear my prayers for intercession. We're all part of the same family. And if I pray to my grandma, do I worship her? No, you're just talking I think. Yes. Praying is just communicating; it's not always worship. Whom do we worship? God. Yes. Not Mary or saints or grandmas. That reminds me, y'all know Pope John Paul 2, JP2? Yes. He died a few years ago from Parkinson's disease, which slowly destroys your nervous system so that your brain can't control your body. There's no cure. People just get worse & worse until they die. Many people think JP2's a saint, that is, he'!  Yes. One way the Church figures out if someone is a saint is to see if the person in heaven intercedes for someone on Earth. In JP2's case, a French nun had Parkinson's disease just like the Pope; she prayed to JP2 for his intercession, and she was miraculously healed. So the Church concludes that he is indeed in heaven and interceded for her. How do they know it was a miracle? Good question. The Church does an investigation, doctors testify; it's a long process. Because of this miracle, JP2 will be called Blessed John Paul 2. If one more miracle is attributed to him, the Church will declare him Saint John Paul 2. So intercession works; the paralytic's friends believed in it, and we can too.

Finally, this whole paralytic business aggravated the scribes. What's a scribe? Someone who can write!! Yes. They were religious authorities, they worked at the temple along with the priests. And like the Pharisees, they knew the Scribe-tures, the Scriptures, very well, and made their living from it. So when Jesus shows he has more authority than they do, that's a problem for them. We'll see Jesus aggravate them even more on other occasions, but that's it for tonight.

Class is over 15 seconds early!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bug Eater

This post has been linked to Sunday Snippets and Amazing Catechists

Y'all remember from our last class before Christmas we had stopped at the birth of...John the Baptist! Yes, and now we're going to cover...when Jesus was born! Yes.Y'all know the story already so it won't take long. Tell me please, where did Jesus grow up? Oh, do come along: N-a-z- Nazareth! Yes. And where was he born? Bethlehem. Yes. Why were Joseph & Mary in Bethlehem? Because that was where David was born? Yes, genius, Micah's prophecy said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem just like David. But why did Joseph have to go there? Because the King said so. Yes, the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus wanted a census taken, and Joseph was descended from David so he had to go there for the census. Tell me about Joseph & Mary in Bethlehem. They had to stay in a stable 'cause there were no rooms. Yes, and? Mary had Jesus in the stable and put him in a manger. Yes, and remember Isaiah's Christmas prophecies included an ox, an ass, and a manger, so it makes sense that they'd stay in a stable. What was Jesus wearing? Huh? Was he wearing a tuxedo? No...something like...he was swaddled, do y'all know what that is? No. It's when you wrap a baby up tight so he can't move. Do y'all know why parents do that? So the baby won't hurt himself? Yes, more please. So his bones grow straight? Mmm, maybe. It's to calm him down. When babies are close to being born it's all very tight inside their mother and they're used to that cozy world where they can't stretch out. So when babies get upset, if you swaddle them so they can't move it calms them down. It's like being in their mommas again. When one of my children used to get upset, we'd swaddle him tight and put him in a dark room. He'd shut right up and look like an angel; and we could eat dinner in peace. Y'all remember that when you have babies.

So who came to see Jesus first? Shepherds? Yes, who were poor and smelled like sheep. Who told them to come? Angels! Yes. The poorest people came to see Jesus first. And who came later? The Magi? Yes, which means...wise men. Yes. It's where we get the word magician. But back then it meant they had special knowledge; they studied the stars and so...they followed the Star. Yes. They were foreigners, not Jews, but they came to see Jesus anyway. Before they went to Bethlehem, they stopped in Jerusalem to see...umm, the King? Yes, a mean king named...Pericles? Hey, interesting guess, but Pericles was Greek and not mean...y'all know this, H-e-r Herod! King Herod!  Yes. The Magi told Herod they had come to see the new King...what did he think about that? He didn't like it. Because...he was already the King. Right. But Herod knew Micah's prophecy about Bethlehem. So he told the Magi, "Yes, I think he'll be born in Bethlehem. Go check it out, come back & tell me where he is so I can pay him homage. too." So they followed the star and found Jesus. Tell me about it. They brought him gifts. Yes, what was first? Gold. Yes. What sort of person would get a gift of gold? A King? Yes. Next gift? Umm...incense? Yes, frankincense, which is crazy expensive...who'd that be for? No guesses? Who burns incense at Mass? The priest? Yes, just like in Solomon's It's for a priest? Yes. Jesus is a priest? Yes he is, good question. We'll see why later on. Last gift? Myrrh? Yes, do ya'll know what that's for? It's for embalming dead people; it's as expensive as gold too. Why do they bring myrrh? Because Jesus will die? Yes.

Before they leave Bethlehem, the Magi dream that they shouldn't go back to Herod, so they go home without seeing him. Tell me the story. Herod is mad and he wants to kill Jesus! Why? 'Cause he wants to stay King! Right, but he doesn't know who Jesus is, so? He kills all the babies! Yes, he "killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men." These babies are the first martyrs; we call them the Holy Innocents. Had they been been baptised? No...was there baptism yet? No, John the Baptist and Jesus were just babies themselves. So could they go to heaven? No? Good answer, but the Church teaches that unbaptized people who are martyrs are baptized by their own blood. Remember when a priest would sacrifice a bull in Leviticus, what did he do with the blood? Sprinkle it on the people! Yes, but martyred people's sins are washed away by their own blood, not an animal's blood, or the water of Baptism.

And how did Jesus escape Herod? An angel told Joseph to leave! Yes, he took his family to Egypt until Herod died. Then they returned to live in...Bethlehem? No...Nazareth! Yes.

We don't know much about Jesus' childhood. There's just one story about the time he and his family went to Jerusalem for Passover, tell it please. They were going back home and Jesus wasn't with them? Yes, and? They went back and found Jesus in the Temple. Doing what? Teaching the grownups! Yes, discussing the Old Testament with the teachers, the rabbis. That's very unusual for a 12-year-old, as you 12-year-olds would know. I bet that years later, when Jesus came back to Jerusalem as an adult, some of those rabbis at the Temple remembered him from when he was a smart kid. By the way, why weren't they discussing the New Testament? It wasn't written yet! Right!

When she found Jesus at the Temple, Mary said, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" What's the 4th Commandment? Honor your Father & Mother! Yes...why didn't Jesus do that? He had to honor God first. Yes, and who was Jesus' father? God the Father! Yes. God comes first, then our parents.

Now we jump ahead to when John and Jesus are grown men. John lives in the desert, wears animal skins, doesn't cut his hair, doesn't drink alcohol and eats bugs. Girls, how about it? Eww, gross! Boys? Gross! I think it's gross, too, but there's no pizza in the desert. Who's John like? Samson? Yes, and...Samuel? Yes, Nazirites; and also like Elijah. So Jewish people would know John wasn't a nut, but a prophet. John preached in the wilderness, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." Remind me, the Old Testament was written in...Hebrew! Yes, and the New Testament was written in...Latin? No...Greek! Yes. Baptize is the Greek word for "immerse." So why was John baptizing in the river? So they could go under the water! Yes. It's a bit like drowning: the old sinful self dies and comes up reborn and clean. Y'all watch out, we'll learn a lot more Greek words the rest of this year.

Tell me please, what was King David's big sin? He had an affair with the other man's wife and killed him! Yes, he had an affair with Bathsheba, Uriah's wife. And did he just confess to God he was sorry? No, he had to tell, ummm...C'mon, N-a-t-h Nathan! Yes. Why did he have to confess out loud and not just pray? 'Cause he's a body'n'soul! Yes, so he had to confess both in spirit and in flesh as the Bible might say. And why would people come from all over Judea and Jerusalem to confess their sins to John? Why didn't they stay home & confess to God? 'Cause they had to confess out loud to somebody! Yes! And it's humbling to hike out of town, let everyone see you acknowledge your sins to this wild man of the desert, and get dunked in the river.

John was getting a lot of attention from everyone, so "priests and Levites from Jerusalem" came to see him. Because they made their living at the Temple dealing with peoples' sins, John was cutting in on their business. The priests wondered if John might be the Messiah, or at least might think he was the Messiah. They asked John, "Who are you?" He confessed, "I am not the Christ." By the way, Christ isn't Jesus' last name. 'Christ' comes from the Greek word Christos, [on the board] which means  'Anointed One,' or 'Messiah.' So when you see the word Christ, think Messiah. "But he said no. And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" And he answered, "No." They said to him then, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said." John is starting to aggravate them: they want simple answers, but John won't give them any. He just quotes Isaiah, and expects them to figure it out on their own. This is very typical behavior for prophets like John, and Jesus, who was also a prophet. Prophets give partial answers so their listeners have to do some work to understand what they say. Because if you have to figure out an know it better? Yes, and you remember it better. Y'all have to figure stuff out in class too, it's good for ya.

Then John pulls out his flamethrower: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham."  Like other prophets, John is telling the priests & Levites, who are the special men who work in God's House, that being Chosen People, Sons of Abraham, won't save them from God's wrath. What's 'wrath'? God's mad at them! Yes. They need to repent like everyone else, but they're too proud to be baptized by John. And they sure feel insulted that John called them nothing but a mess of snakes. Then John says, "Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." What fire is that? Hell? Yes, and the trees? People. Yes. And the good fruit? Doing good things! Yes. So God isn't too concerned with who you are, but...what you do! Yes. And the axe will be cutting down the bad trees shortly. No doubt the priests & Levites leave in a huff.

The next day John was baptizing as usual [we act out this section. I'm John, one child is Jesus, one child is being baptized, and the rest are the crowd by the Jordan]. Daughter, are you sorry for your sins? Yes. Are you repentant? Yes. OK down you go...and up. All done. Crowd, are her sins forgiven? Yes!...No! Uh-oh, that was a trick question! Who can forgive sin? God. Yes. Not John. John's job is to call people to repentance, he can't take their sins away...who can? Jesus! Yes. So what's the baptism for? To show you are sorry? Yes, John's baptism is symbolic. Baptism doesn't wash away sin yet. John said "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier...he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." Daughter, you can join the crowd.

Then John saw his cousin Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" Tell me crowd, what do Jews use lambs for? Eating? I mean, why do they need lambs? For sacrificing! Yes. Why do they need to sacrifice? 'Cause they're sinners! Yes. Does God sin? Ha, no! So why does God need a lamb? Well, he doesn't. So who's this lamb for? For us? Yes. And this one lamb will "take away the sins of the world." What kind of lamb could do that? A perfect one! Yes. So God's lamb is a perfect gift. Why does he give it to us? Because he loves us? Yes. We know all this now, but that day by the Jordan people probably went home telling their families that the bug eater had made a very odd prophecy about his cousin.

Jesus, come on into the water...why are you here? To be baptized. Crowd, is Jesus a sinner? Ha, no! In fact, "John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented." Jesus is showing repentance not for his sins...but for ours! Yes. OK cousin, down you go....and up. "And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Who's the dove? The Holy Spirit! And the voice? God the Father! And my cousin? God the Son! Who all make? The Trinity!  Yes. John says, "I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."

Digame por favor, cual es un quinceañera? What's a quinceañera? It's when a girl has a big party when she's fifteen. Yes, it shows she's a young woman on her way to be her own person, not just a girl under her parents' wings.  In English we'd say it's a coming-out party. Between Thanksgiving and New Year's there are debutante balls where young women called debutantes are presented to society in a similar way. Well, Jesus' baptism is like that: he's a grown man about 30 years old, but he's led a quiet, private life until now. But John has said prophetic things about Jesus in front of crowds of people, who will all be talking about Jesus now, and his life will never be quiet and private again.

That's it for tonight; next week Jesus begins what we call his public ministry. Yes, honorary son? Why don't we get parties like that? Like debutantes, with photos in the paper? Yeah! Because women have the babies, and we don't. So we treat them special. Right, daughters? Right!

Class over!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Behold the West

One of the many hats My Fabulous Wife wears is that of travel agent; so my family usually takes cruises when we go on vacation. For example, this Christmas we took a week's Caribbean cruise out of New Orleans on Norwegian Spirit.

Among other ports of call, we visited Belize City. Belize is one of the few places where cruise ships cannot dock. Instead, the ships anchor a couple of miles out, and little water-taxis called tenders carry people to shore (You can see on Google Earth how far out the ships anchor). Tendering is more trouble than docking, but this time I was reminded of why I'll probably miss it if it goes away.

Big cruise ships are absolutely preposterous by every measure; Oasis of the Seas, which we saw, is one of the largest, at about 1200 feet long (four football fields), 185 feet wide (double the Titanic), 16 (as in 'sixteen') stories tall, carrying 8,000 people. Like so:

But as monstrous as the cruise ships are, they are still just dots on the ocean. Any ship at sea tends to look insignificant. And embarkation at the home port is like getting on an airplane: exiting from big concourses into a covered walkway which connects to the ship. There's no opportunity to really experience the scale of the ship. And if the ship docks at the places it visits, you simply walk down a short ramp onto a concrete dock, and hit the town a few hundred yards later. Again, not enough space to view a 1,000 foot long ship. Plus docking often means as many as four ships all within spitting distance of each other, like buses parked outside a mall, which makes them less remarkable. They look penned-in, bovine, like here at Costa Maya:

A ship just looks its best away from the shore. Like at Belize where the ships anchor:

(These aren't Belize photos)

This is what makes tendering so pleasant: the trips convey a real sense of departing and returning to a huge vessel, from right up close to far away. And stepping between the stable ship and a bobbing tender just emphasizes the difference in scale:

(a medium-sized ship)

Sometimes it's too windy to tender, and nobody gets off the ship. We experienced this a few years ago in Cozumel when the docks had suffered hurricane damage, and were unusable. There were six cruise ships off the coast waiting for the wind to drop to a point that made tendering safe....didn't happen. Oddly enough that was my second most memorable day of cruising; the sight of five other ships as an ensemble was just incredible. I had been reflecting in a vague sense for a few years that cruising was showing me something about the uniqueness of the West, but I couldn't quite express it. The collection of ships sharpened that impression, but not conclusively.

So on this Christmas cruise we returned to Belize, and I anticipated the little tender jaunts. What I didn't expect was 5 ships at anchor, close enough be seen at once, but with enough space that they didn't overlap. Once again I was struck by not just the ships, but the ships as a group.


Tendering away from, and returning to this gaggle of gargantuas sparked a little epiphany, what I call a Behold the West moment. Here are these crazy-big vessels, each costing $800 million-$1.4 billion, poised off some pretty beach. They tootle around the world for fun. People of modest means can afford to travel on them. There are dozens. Older, smaller ones go to breaking yards such as Chittagong and Alang  (see these places on Google Earth) as newer, bigger ones are built in Finland and France. Their staffs come from every country, but all speak the lingua franca, English. This world-spanning business is self-managed without any overarching authority, each company calling its own shots. And none of it is a big deal. It's just the West being itself: imaginative, creative, cooperative, competitive, trusting, self-motivating, confident, extroverted. Explosively productive.

So I was struck once again by being a citizen of this spectacular culture, and tried not to take it for granted. Because even in 2011, most of the world doesn't work this way, and despite her ruinous sins, the modern West is still Christianity's child, though a wayward one of late.

Tendering back to Norwegian Spirit I considered the pyramids as a sort of ancient analog to the cruise-ships; decided that wasn't a good fit. Pharaoh would see in them a threat to his authority, and he'd be right. And his people: why venture beyond the safe, reliable, life-giving Nile? No, the ships aren't floating pyramids. Then I remembered how the Parthenon looks when you come into the harbor at Piraeus:

The Parthenon, as the best iteration of the Greek temple ideal, better reflects a cruise-ship-making worldview: the long refinement process, examining each bit for improvement; constantly comparing the idea of a temple to the reality of a temple. Letting the idea and the reality each measure themselves against the other, and both improving through that interplay. In fact, this interplay between idea and reality, and the self-criticism imbedded within it is a cornerstone of the Western way. And if Pharaoh would balk at Norwegian Spirit, wouldn't the rambunctious Greeks love it? Well, some would: Diogenes would sneer; Socrates would yawn; but the likes of Aristotle and Pericles would be delighted. The West is their child, too; they'd be proud of her.

And aware of that pride, they might whisper an old Greek word into their daughter's ear: hubris.